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While the percentage of women that decide to give birth with an epidural is constantly increasing (71% of pregnancy women in the US only!), an opposite trend seems to be getting very strong, with many expectant moms willing to have a “natural birth”.
The term “natural birth” can be a bit confusing and can mean different things depending on who you talk to. Some think of a natural birth as the equivalent of a vaginal birth (no matter if it’s an unmedicated birth or not), other consider it to be a birth without epidural or any other medical intervention. Some even consider a c-section to be a natural birth.
However, in this article I am going to talk to you about having a vaginal birth without an epidural. I have personally experienced an unmedicated vaginal birth and it was the most magical experience of my life: it was actually my birth experience that inspired me to start this blog.
I have put together here my best tips for a birth without an epidural, and I also reached out to other moms that experienced the same so they could share their own tips. If giving birth without an epidural is also a dream of yours, then I am confident you will find all these tips to be extremely useful in getting you mentally prepared for labor day and to get through childbirth with as little pain as possible.
Is it Better to Give Birth without an Epidural?
First thing first, why do you want to achieve a natural birth without epidural? Is it because you want to see what your body can do and you believe women were born to give birth naturally without medical intervention? Or are you scared of the side effects of an epidural?
And is it actually better to give birth without an epidural? Are there benefits of having an unmedicated birth compared to relying on medications for pain?
Well, according to Healthline, some (rare) risk factors of an epidural include:
- Back pain and soreness
- Persistent bleeding
- Breathing difficulties
- Drop in blood pressure, which can slow down the baby’s heart rate
In addition to that, epidurals can interfere with the birthing and postpartum process by:
- Prolonging labor: it can interfere with the body’s natural release of hormones, especially oxytocin, which is responsible for triggering labor contractions
- Making breastfeeding more difficult: babies tend to be more drowsy and less interested in breastfeeding when they come out
- Longer recovery time: this is due to the risk factors listed above, but also to the fact that with an epidural you will not be able to be up and moving shortly after birth, which can aid to the recovery time
That said, an epidural has the biggest advantage of allowing you to have a much more comfortable and less painful birth (even though it is possible to have a pain free birth without one!), and it can become a medical necessity if there are complications that result in a c-section.
So, I personally wouldn’t discard it completely as an option for birth, particularly if you are expecting your first child. You don’t know what your pain threshold is going to be when the contractions hit, and you might find yourself changing your mind when you are in the thick of labor.
Even though I really wanted to have a natural birth, and was lucky enough to have one without complications, I did mentally prepare for an epidural as well, and knew that it was an option for when I was going into labor. You can also read some positive birth stories of women that had a vaginal birth with an epidural here.
Finally, make sure to discuss your options with your doctor or midwife to determine what’s really best for you and your child. Some women have complications or conditions that don’t make them very good candidates for an unmedicated childbirth, such as heart conditions, preeclampsia, diabetes or having a baby in a breech position.
Tips for Birth without Epidural
Without further ado, here’s all the best tips on how to give birth without an epidural. These are all from real moms, including myself, who had a successful natural birth and believe in the power of a woman’s body and mind to successfully deliver a new baby into this world.
1) Educate Yourself
This is possibly one of the best tips on how to prepare for a birth without an epidural. In fact, you can’t really be ready for an unmedicated vaginal birth unless you know what it consists of, and you have a good understanding of the labor and delivery process.
The saying “knowledge is power” totally applies to birth. Knowing what to expect and what you need to do at every single stage of labor to help your body work through the contractions will make all the difference in having a successful natural birth.
You might debate that our body is designed to give birth, and your body will instinctively know what to do when you are into labor. And while that’s partially true, it’s also true that in the past (going back to a long time ago), women used to give birth with the support of older women (the equivalent of doulas nowadays) that had a lot of knowledge passed down from generations and could guide laboring moms through the process.
Nowadays the birthing process, particularly in hospital, has become almost like a production line, where medical staff wants to get you and your baby out as soon as possible, and women’s wishes are not always respected. So, the more you know and understand about the process, as well as possible complications, the more you can be in control of what’s going to happen and make informed decisions.
For this reason, I highly encourage you to enroll in a birthing class! These usually cover:
- What happens in labor and what the different options for labor and delivery are, so you can feel confident about making your own birth plan
- Coping with labor, including different kinds of pain relief
- Exercising during and after pregnancy
- Caring for and feeding your baby
I have gathered here a list of some of the best online birth classes available at the moment, including some free classes. Take your time to go through them and choose the one that best suits your needs.
2) Practice Breathing Techniques
Proper breathing during labor allows your body to relax and send more oxygen down your uterus. It can also help distract you from the pain. This way it will be much quicker and easier to birth your baby naturally.
Now, there are different breathing techniques out there for giving birth without an epidural that you can practice. They all use different patterns of breathing at different stages of labor (you don’t breathe the same at the beginning of labor as you do when you are pushing baby out) and you might learn some of these at your birthing classes. If not, you can have a look at these suggestions from Parents.
If you are interested in following the Lamaze or Hypnobirthing birthing methods, you will find that they have their own breathing techniques. You can read more about the hypnobirthing breathing techniques here.
3) Practice Birth Affirmations
Another tip for a labor without epidural is to practice birth affirmations. These are positive statements about the expecting or laboring mom, their baby and their birthing process.
Through repetition, they can turn any negative thought that you may have about giving birth into a positive one: this will reduce any stress and anxiety, and boost your self-esteem and self-confidence. As a consequence, your body will follow by relaxing and birthing more easily, thus dramatically reducing any labor pain.
Your can find 50 Positive Birth Affirmations here, including FREE printable cards.
4) Keep Moving
I definitely experienced this first-hand when I was in labor. Every time I was sitting down on a birthing ball or on the couch, my contractions were slowing down: it took me a little while to realize that if I was walking around the house instead, contractions weere coming closer and closer together. Once I did, labor really sped up!
In fact, walking helps your pelvis move more freely and allows gravity to assist your baby in moving down. You should really take advantage of this during the first stage of labor as, once you transition and feel the need to start pushing, you won’t be able to walk at all!
Walk for as long as you can before laying down. My first baby they made me lay in the hospital bed almost immediately and I couldn’t bare it and had an epidural. Second baby (different hospital) they encouraged me to walk around and baby came much faster and without an epidural.Christina, Mom in the six
I always learnt new things from one birth, that I didn’t think of before and it helped prepare me for labor better. The biggest thing I learnt is the power of gravity. As soon as you go into labor walk your butt off. I did the length of the hospital car park twice and then paced up and down the reception whilst I was waiting to be booked in. Whilst other in labor moms were sat down, I was moving and, on arrival into the room, I was told I was fully dilated and asked if I was ready to push. 20 minutes later I was holding Jorge in my arms. Because I had naturally made the labor faster I was only in pain for an hour and I could go epidural free.Samantha, Recipe This
5) Enroll in a Hypnobirthing Course
If you’ve never heard of hypnobirthing before and the name makes you cringe, please don’t skip to the next tip straight away, as this is the one best tip I (and many other moms) got. In fact, when I asked other moms to share their tips on how to give birth without an epidural, most of them ended up mentioning it!
I was also very skeptical about it when I first heard the word, but then I heard people’s and friends’ testimonies and decided to look into it, and it turned out to be the best decision I could have possibly made.
First of all, hypnobirthing is a tried and proven birthing method that uses different techniques, such as deep relaxation, visualization, affirmations and special breathing techniques to achieve a confident, calm and peaceful childbirth (sometimes even pain free!). While it strongly supports having a natural/vaginal birth, the aim of hypnobirthing is for the mom and the baby to have a positive birthing experience, no matter the circumstances.
All the techniques that you learn during an hypnobirthing course really help the laboring mom relax and focus, to be in tune with their body and, as a consequence, birth with ease. During the classes you will also learn how the fear of pain and complications can really affect your ability to achieve a natural birth, and how you can overcome all of that.
Not to mention that, through history, women have been “taught” to birth in a way that is contrary to their natural instinct (for example, no one should tell a woman when to push, your body will feel when it’s the right time!). So, with hypnobirthing, you will learn how to follow your body’s cues instead.
Hypnobirthing is great for mind over matter when giving birth! The mantras and breathing techniques really help with being in tune with your body when it’s time to deliver. You become in control of your body and pain.Anh, A daily dose of mom
After three hospital and epidural births, I knew I needed something different. Having a medical condition made it to where it wasn’t likely I could have an epidural. My sister had done hypnobirthing so I researched and went that route. My unplanned unassisted home birth was the best birth and recovery I had out of all the others.Krystyn, Really, are you serious?
6) Consider a Water Birth
Having a water birth has many benefits for the laboring mom, such as:
- Decrease labor pain
- Shorter labor
- Reduced chances of perineal trauma or of an episiotomy
- It helps relax your body
I actually really wanted to have a water birth. It was all planned: my midwife was going to call the hospital when we were leaving home so they could start filling up the tab, and I was going to get in as soon as I arrived at the hospital.
Except the hospital totally forgot to do it, and my labor progressed too fast, so the tub never had enough water for me to get it. I was (and still am to a certain degree) so bitter about it!
That said, if you get a chance, really consider getting in the water during labor. Even if it’s just during the first stages of labor and you want to get out for the final stages of pushing (some women prefer to actually deliver outside the water).
One piece of advice I was given about water births though, is to wait to get in the water until your contractions are quite frequent and regular. Otherwise, if you get in the water too early, you risk getting too relaxed and this will slow down your labor instead of making it progress faster!
As a mom and labor nurse, all of my friends want to know my best tips for a fast, natural labor! I strongly recommend getting into a tub or shower if that is available to you. Laboring in a warm bathtub helped me immensely towards the end of my labors!Lindsey, These hungry kids
7) Have a Clear Birth Plan
If you want to have a natural birth with no epidural, also make sure you have a clear birth plan and you take several copies with you to hospital for all the doctors and nurses.
A birth plan is a document that includes all your choices and preferences for before, during and after labor and delivery. It doesn’t necessarily mean everything will go according to what’s written in it but, when you are in labor you won’t have time to discuss any of it with the medical team around you. So having a birth plan allows you to share your wishes with all the doctors and nurses that will be taking care of you.
With a birth plan you get to have a say in what’s going to happen to you, your body and your baby. Decisions are not just made for you. And this is particularly crucial if you want to avoid any medical intervention because you wish to have a natural birth.
8) Find a Health Care Provider that supports Your Plan
This tips is also very important: you really need to make sure that you have a health care provider that supports your plan of having a natural birth. You can choose between an OB (obstetrician) or a midwife but, even then, you might prefer an OB or a midwife over another one.
In general, obstetricians tend to be less supportive of natural birth than midwives, but that is not always the case. Also, if you want to give birth at home or in a birthing center, obstetricians are not an option. So, make sure to discuss your birth plan with your health care provider in depth and that they are 100% on board!
Jenny, for example, switched from a traditional OB to a midwife practice:
Make sure you have a provider that supports the birth journey you want. For both of my pregnancies, I switched providers (my first pregnancy I was over 20 weeks!) when I found out that the practice I was going to was not supportive of the natural birth and even the more holistic care that I wanted!Jenny, Wholesome Family Living
9) Hire a Birth Duola
A birth doula is a trained professional who provides emotional and physical support before, during and after birth. While a doula doesn’t have medical training like an OB or a midwife, she will still be able to help you with different techniques on how to cope with labor pain, advice on labor positions, and so on.
A doula will also act as an advocate for your birth plan and birth wishes when dealing with hospital staff, making sure that you get the birth that you’ve always wanted and that you deserve. All this will help if you want to achieve a natural birth without epidural.
You can read a Jayne’s story here on why she hired a doula and how it helped her with her labor experience.
10) Have a Support Person
Having a support person with you when delivering a baby can make all the difference in your ability to give birth without an epidural. If it’s not a doula (or in addition to a doula), make sure you have someone else with you to help out during labor and delivery.
It needs to be someone that is aware and supports your birth plan, that will hold your hand through each contraction and give you words of encouragement. Someone that will hold your water bottle so that you stay hydrated or that will give you a massage to help you relax. Pretty much someone who is well aware of the whole birthing process and knows how to support you through it each step of the way.
Usually the partner is the chosen support person for expectant moms: if so, I strongly encourage you to enroll in the Online Prenatal Class for Couples by Hilary from Pulling Curls, designed especially for couples. But, if you don’t have a partner, any other person you can count on and that will be there for you when the day comes will be perfect too.
11) Shift your Mindset
I talk about this one over and over again with other pregnant moms that I meet, and it’s one of the main aspect that you will learn if you enroll in a hypnobirthing course. It’s incredibly important that, if you want to achieve an unmedicated birth, you believe in yourself and your ability to do it.
If you are too scared of the pain or all the possible complications, and you don’t manage to overcome that fear, then you are already way more likely not to succeed at it. Fear is an incredibly powerful emotion and it will work by freezing your body during childbirth, preventing it from relaxing and progressing with labor.
A body in fear will actually work against the natural birthing process and it will only prolong labor.
Birth affirmations can help with shifting your mindset, or hypnobirthing can teach you some techniques to overcome your fears. Otherwise, really just try and remember that women have done this for centuries and your body is designed to give birth (no matter the size of your baby or the size of your pelvis!) – you can totally do it!
12) Read Positive Birth Stories
Following the tip above, reading positive birth stories can also really help you overcome all the fear.
We have all grown up in a world where it’s so easy to hear of extremely panful births or births that have gone wrong. This can really affect your ability to think of a natural and unmedicated birth like something that you can achieve.
In reality, there are so many women around the world that have beautiful and “uneventful” natural birth experiences. Reading their stories will help you reprogram your brain and feel confident that you too, just like many other moms have done before you, can have a wonderful and empowering birth experience without the need for an epidural.
13) Try Different Birthing Positions
I honestly could not believe this when I learnt it at one of the birthing classes. I was gobsmacked!
Did you know that the classical birthing position that you see in movies, with a woman lying down on a table and legs up in the air, is actually the worst birthing position you can possibly choose to give birth to a baby naturally!?
Lying on your back when giving birth narrows the pelvic outlet and increases your chances of a prolonged labor, of having an episiotomy, a vacuum delivery or the use of forceps. It can also cause a reduced blood flow to the baby because of compression of major blood vessels located down your back, which can result in having a c-section.
On the other hand, other positions such as standing, sitting or squatting, use gravity to facilitate the downward movement of your baby. Squatting in particular can increase the size of the pelvis, providing more room for your baby to descend down the birth canal.
Even positions such as side-lying and semi-reclining have benefits compared to the supine position, by allowing the laboring mom to relax and rest in between contractions.
I was told to try different positions when I was still pregnant to see what felt more comfortable, so that I could be ready for when I was in labor. In reality though, you won’t know what position feels comfortable until your body is actually giving birth.
I thought I was going to labor on a birthing ball and give birth squatting or on my hands and knees in the water … turned out I couldn’t stand sitting on the birthing ball during the first stage of labor and I delivered my baby standing up on the side of the hospital bed. My daughter literally landed on a pillow on the floor when she was born.
Point being, it’s still good for you to try out and be aware of different positions, but don’t expect it to be the one you are actually going to use when you are in labor. Also, don’t think that any position is better than the other: it really comes down to what feels comfortable in the moment. In fact, you might even find yourself changing positions quite a few times, and that’s okay too.
14) Get a Massage
If you want to achieve a birth without an epidural, I would also recommend you look into getting a massage by your partner or by another support person during labor. In fact, there is evidence that massage during the first stage of labor can decrease pain and can help you relax, thus making the laboring process much easier.
You can have a look at some massage techniques in the video below.
The only thing about a massage is that you need to be in certain positions to be able to enjoy it and get a benefit out of it and. If that position is not comfortable for you during labor, it won’t work. But worth getting ready for it in case it does work out!
15) Create a Relaxing Environment
The more you are relaxed, the more your body will be able to work its magic, the less painful contractions are going to be, and the the more likely you are to be going to deliver without the need for an epidural.
So, do anything you can to relax your body and mind: listen to some calming music, try meditation in between contractions, turn off the lights, light some candles, and so on. I spent most of my laboring time listening to relaxation music and birth affirmations from my hypnobirthing app!
Create a spa-like experience. Turn the lights down or off, put on calming music, and try to relax in a bath tub. I spent 90% of my labor in the hospital tub; it helped tremendously with my contractions.Kate, Adventure Oyster
Related: Best FREE Hypnobirthing Apps
16) Stay at Home for as Long as Possible
Following on from the tips above, if you are going to give birth in hospital, try and stay at home for as long as possible.
Home is where your body feels safe and comfortable: it’s a space that you know, where you can create the environment that most calms you. The hospital, on the other hand, can be quite different with the bright lights and all the people coming and going!
Here in New Zealand they actually encourage you to stay at home until you are quite far along. Possibly too much as, when I gave birth, I got to the hospital just in time! However, that’s because, by staying at home, you are more likely to progress quicker, thanks to the fact that you are in a more relaxing environment.
17) Use Visualization Techniques
Visualization techniques can be very powerful when giving birth and can really help achieve a natural and unmedicated birth. Whether it’s visualizing your baby moving down and out your body, your cervix opening up, or your pain flowing down and away from your body, these visions can really create acceptance, belief and confidence in achieving the birth that you’ve always imagined.
If you enroll in a hypnobirthing course, you will learn a few different visualization techniques to help cope with labor.
I visualized the pain moving down through me and my toes. Really had to focus on letting go and not tightening or clenching during contractions.Sarah, Bucket list tummy
18) Empty your Bladder
Did you know that if your bladder is full, baby has less space to move down the birth canal, and therefore labor can take longer and be more uncomfortable? Such a silly and simple tip but worth remembering: don’t forget to pee often while you are in labor!
Keep hydrated but also empty your bladder often. If you have a full bladder, it can make it harder for baby to move down.Kate, Adventure Oyster
19) Massage your Perineum
This is another one of my best tips on how to prepare for a birth without an epidural. A perineal massage is a massage that you can practice during pregnancy and that will increase your chances of having an easier labor and delivery, as well as reduce the possibility of tearing, bruising or having an episiotomy.
It works by improving the health, blood flow, elasticity and relaxation of the pelvic floor muscles. When your perineal rim is soft and relaxed, the folds of the perineum open easily, and the baby can come out with less effort.
You can read more about how to massage your perineum here, including when to start and how often to do it leading up to your due date.
20) Take Contractions One at the Time
Keep focusing on the fact that contractions don’t last forever and will eventually stop, so that you have time to recover in between them. And every contraction means a step closer to meeting your beautiful baby!
I know it sounds easier said than done, but really try to embrace each contractions instead of fighting them. Work with your body, not against what it’s trying to do.
It’s important to take each contraction one at a time without thinking of the next one. Before you know it labor is over and your baby is in your arms!Lindsey, These hungry kids
I was induced, so many of the common tips of keep moving and relax in a bathtub or shower weren’t available to me because I had to be continuously connected to a fetal monitor. The biggest tip that helped me was to focus on one contraction at a time. Most people can do anything for one minute. My second tip is to keep your hands relaxed. If your hands are relaxed the rest of your body will be relaxed. If you start clenching your fists, the rest of your body will tighten up which is the opposite of what you want to happen.Erica, Rasberries & Kohlrabi
21) Don’t let anyone tell you when to Push
This tip is also quite important, as we are all so accustomed to seeing movies in which women are told when to push during the final stage of labor. When the reality is that women are perfectly capable and aware of when it’s the right time to push!
It’s hard to explain and you probably can’t really understand until you’ve been through it, but trust me when I say that you’ll definitely feel when it’s time to push. And you should only listen to your body, not anyone else.
There’s actually been multiple studies that have confirmed the efficacy of patient-directed pushing compared of direct pushing (when you are told to push). According to this research, while directed pushing might slightly shorten the duration of second stage labor, it can also contribute to deoxygenation of the fetus, cause damage to urinary, pelvic, and perineal structures, and challenge a woman’s confidence in her body.
22) Research all Pain Relief Options
While I am a strong advocate of natural births without epidural or medical interventions, I also believe that every woman has different sensations and different experiences. So, even if you are planning on having a natural birth, I highly encourage you to research all your pain relief options, so you can make informed decisions if the circumstances change.
The last thing you want is to change your mind last minute and ask for an epidural, but then it’s too late to have one (epidurals take time and can’t be given once the body transitions to the pushing stage). Or be in more pain than you can handle and you are not even aware of what pain relief you can ask for.
I have a friend, for example, whose baby was back-to-back (baby’s back is against the mother’s spine), and this position is apparently extremely painful when giving birth and can make labor more difficult. So, you might want to opt for an epidural if that is the case.
Other pain relief options other than epidurals include nitrous oxide (laughing gas) or injections of pethidine or morphine.
My biggest tip would be to learn about how epidurals affect birth. I had an epidural with my first and as a result had some interventions including developing a fever (and attendant hospital stay for my baby and I). Plus, having an episiotomy and forceps delivery which took a long time to heal. During my second pregnancy, I spent a significant time learning about epidurals and the side effects. This was a BIG motivator for me to have a natural birth as much as possible. And, thankfully, I had the most beautiful birth without epidural with my second son!Gloria, Mums invited
23) Be Prepared for all Scenarios
Last but not least, really be prepared for all scenarios. Even though you are aiming for a natural birth without epidural, labor may take a different turn and you might not be able to achieve your dream birth (at least not this time). But that’s okay too!
Only getting ready for one type of birth will only make it harder if something happens and you need to transition to a different plan. Also accept the fact that you won’t be in control of everything happening during your birth and believe that, no matter how you are going to bring your baby into this world, it’s still going to be the most amazing and rewarding moment of your life. Nothing will take that away from you.
If you can achieve that, you will actually find that not stressing about complications, will only make you more relax and less likely for anything to go wrong!
Tips for Birth without Epidural: Final Thoughts
Here it is mama, all my tips for a birth without an epidural!
While giving birth naturally is something that’s frown upon by many moms around the world (“why would you want to put your body through it?” is the phrase I hear the most), it’s definitely not something impossible for any pregnant that wants to achieve it! We are designed to give birth vaginally an without the need for anesthesia so, unless there are complications that are out of our control, you can definitely do it.
Don’t be too scared of the pain, as that won’t last forever. Plus know that birth doesn’t have to be as painful as it looks in movies or as other moms like to tell us. In fact, having a painless delivery is actually possible. But, if do experience some pain, I am confident that all the tips above will help you minimize it, deal with it and push though.
Finally, understand that preparing for birth is almost like preparing for a marathon. You wouldn’t dream of running a marathon without training for it first. The same goes with labor, some of the techniques listed above (such as the breathing, visualization or perineal massage techniques) need to be practiced while you are still pregnant, so that they can be effective when baby actually comes.
Take your time to go through them, understand them and practice them throughout the day. You’ll be ready in no time 🙂
Here’s some related articles that will help you get through pregnancy:
- 8 Tips for Coping with Anxiety During Pregnancy
- Pregnancy Survival Kit (30+ Essentials for Mom & Dad)
- 20+ Fun & Creative Things to do while Pregnant
- Best Pregnancy & Antenatal Exercises safe for all Trimesters (and for easier labor!)
- 20+ Remedies for Heartburn during Pregnancy (and Tips on how to prevent it)
And some related articles to prepare for birth and postpartum:
- How to Achieve a Confident Birth
- 15 Signs that Labor is 24 to 48 Hours Away
- Hospital Bag Checklist for Mom, Baby and Partner (with FREE Printable)
- 12 Must-Have Clothes for After Delivery in Hospital
- Postpartum Care Kit Checklist (with all Essentials!)
- What to REALLY expect with your Postpartum Recovery
Are you pregnant and wanting to achieve a birth without epidural, and have more questions that haven’t been answered above? Or are you a mom that’s already given birth naturally and you have more tips for other expectant moms? Then please let me know in the comments below – I’d love to hear from you!
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